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Jim H

Better than the Numbers

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The phrase "better than his numbers" was a recent quote by Terry Ryan concerning newly acquired starter Kevin Correia. Now, I admit I have no idea whether Correia is "better than his numbers". I don't remember having seen him pitch and I haven't followed his career. The question for me is, is any pitcher "better than his numbers"?

It is an interesting question for many reasons. A large part of discussion about Jack Morris' suitability for the Hall of Fame centers around this question. Many of his supporters suggest that the numbers or at least the traditional numbers, understate his value. Certainly, we have all seen a game where a pitcher was "better than his numbers". Occasionally we will see a pitcher give up a bunch of runs in an inning where there were no well hit balls and every hit seemed to perfectly but softly placed in the right spot.

Many pitchers seem to pitch better than their secondary numbers suggest they should, at least for a while. Sometimes for a long while. Blackburn, despite the vitrol sent his way in the blogsphere, was largely the Twins best pitcher for 2 years. Till injuries set in or the league caught up to him, depending on your point of view.

I always felt that Brad Radke was better than his numbers throughout his pretty long career. His numbers were solid, but generally suggested a good but not quite a front line starter. My thought is that Radke generally gave the Twins 25 or more starts a year where he gave his team a good chance to win. Quality starts, I suppose. Unfortunately he also had 2 or 3 starts a year where he was putrid. Six or more runs in 3 or less innings. It spoke to, I suppose how fine a line he walked to be a effective major league pitcher without dominant stuff. What those few extremely bad starts did, was take very good stats and make them pretty ordinary. It happened to him every year. Because he never strung together dominant performances like a Santana, his solid, very good pitching got diluted by a few bad starts.

Clearly, even close observers often take in to account certain factors and conclude that certain pitchers were "better than their numbers". Ferguson Jenkins is a good example of this. He was elected to the Hall of Fame despite having slightly inferior numbers to many of his peers. It was thought that the handicap of pitching in Wrigley Field and often playing before an inferior team, depressed his numbers. So it was concluded that Ferguson was indeed Hall of Fame worthy despite his numbers.

So, what does all of this mean? Well it could mean that some prominant bloggers are wrong about Correia. Perhaps, he is one of those pitchers who is "better than his numbers" and will provide useful pitching even if his end of the year numbers don't look that good. Or perhaps he is actually what his numbers suggest, a number 5 starter holding place until someone better comes along. I certainly don't know, but I will look forward to seeing whether Terry Ryan is right about him.

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  1. Jim H's Avatar
    Oh, I understand saber stats, but I think people need to understand that baseball is a team game. Your stats ARE dependent on teammates. You can try, but you really can't completely take the team out of individual stats. Especially pitching stats where how well you pitch is very much influenced by what the other 8 guys on the field do or don't do. And even when you make the perfect pitch and every teammate does what he should, it can still go wrong when the opposing hitter bloops one in or is just better than you on that particular pitch.

    It is important also to recognize that saber stats have as many weaknesses as traditional stats. Just different sorts of weaknesses. A stat like FIP will naturally favor power/strikeout pitchers because it focuses largely on when the ball is not hit. I don't really think that is a very realistic way to look at pitching.

    The other thing is the attempt to create new stats tend to back my point. Many times we feel that players are better or maybe worse than their numbers so people are out there trying to find new ways to measure results. Maybe it is better to say that stats are an inperfect reflection of what happens on the field.
  2. James's Avatar
    I agree with you completely on this. I think the advanced stats that have been introduced with sabermetrics do a better job of trying to isolate individual performance than traditional stats, but like you said, it doesn't tell the whole story. I don't think that we should stop trying to find these new stats just because we haven't found the perfect one yet. Maybe we never will, but that doesn't mean we can't keep trying.

    Until then though, there will definitely be people that are "better than the numbers."
  3. PeanutsFromHeaven's Avatar
    I definitely appreciate your point of view; much as I admire those who try to explain what often seems unexplainable, there are simply too many variables to consider when using SABR stats. While I usually think that way about hitters, it definitely holds true for pitchers too, and I'll keep my fingers crossed that our rotation ends up better than the numbers might suggest.
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